I stopped by the Asian market to look for nigari (sold in Japan, a coagulant consisting of magnesium chloride plus other trace minerals) when I first had the idea to make soy milk and tofu from scratch. Done right, homemade soy milk and tofu can be beautiful things: subtle, sweet, and versatile—nothing like the white quivering bricks that give tofu a bad name. Don’t get me wrong, I buy my fair share of premade soy products and am perfectly okay with it, it’s just that the homemade versions taste better and cost less, despite what I heard at the market.
The shopkeeper, who often advises me on which foods are worth making from scratch and which aren’t, said, “We don’t sell it. Why make tofu anyway when you can buy it so cheap. Soy milk, yes, I understand and make it from scratch a few times a week, but tofu—NO, you don’t make this. Too much work to make at home.”
I protested and explained that I wanted to make fresh kinugoshi (silken custard-like tofu made from thick soy milk), yaki-dofu (grilled tofu), and firm farmhouse tofu bricks found in The Book of Tofu. She turned to me with a look that said, Get another hobby, Dear.
“You want to know how to make soy milk?”
“Night before, you get out a big pot. Take 1 pound soybeans, wash really well, cover with water and let sit. Change water few times. Next morning, drain and rinse soybeans. Heat some water in a large pot. You have a blender?”
I nodded, yes.
“Take out blender and blend soaked soybeans in water until ground this small.”
She rubbed her thumb across her fingers as if there were a secret mashed soybean hidden between them.
“Then you cook soybean mixture until foams a few times, 20 minutes or so. Strain it in colander with clean towel. Heat soy milk, then drink with bit of sugar, salt, and vanilla bean.”
As for the tofu, I was on my own.
When I returned home, I found a wooden tofu press and a bag of nigari online and ordered it. Pure magnesium chloride or calcium sulfate can also be used as tofu coagulants, but from what I’ve read, nigari makes a subtly sweet tofu, which was the flavor I was after. So I began my adventures in soy milk and tofu making with only partial approval from the shopkeeper. I haven’t looked back since.
Homemade Soy milk and Tofu
adapted from The Book of Tofu and Emeril’s Homemade Tofu
makes about 1 1/2-quarts soy milk
Ingredients to make soy milk:
1 pound of dried organic soybeans
plus to make tofu:
granular or powdered nigari (or use pure magnesium chloride or calcium sulfate) to make the tofu
To make the soy milk:
Wash and drain the soybeans, discarding any small stones or off-colored beans. Cover with cold water, and soak for about 10 hours (for optimal flavor although somewhere between 8 to 24 hours will still taste good, soaking beyond 24 hours yields a bland soy milk though), rinsing and draining the beans several times during the soak. The soybeans should be tender enough to bite through without resistance.
Drain and rinse the soybeans again. In two 6-quart stockpots or in one large 12-quart pot (depending on what size pots you have in your kitchen), heat 8 cups of water if using two pots or 16 cups if using one pot. While the water is heating, combine half the soaked beans with enough water to cover in a food processor or blender. Process for about 2 to 3 minutes, until the beans are very finely ground. Scrape down sides as needed. Repeat with the remaining half of the soybeans.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two medium pots or the one large pot; the mixture should not come more than halfway up the side of each pot. Lower the heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula. As the mixture heats, foam will occur. If the foam threatens to rise over the rim, sprinkle about a half cup of cold water over the foam and stir rapidly. This should reduce the foam.
Continue to cook until the mixture stops foaming, about 20 more minutes. At the end, the liquid should look yellowish and rather grainy. This means that the milk has separated from the fibrous part of the ground-up soy. Place a colander over a large pot covered with cheesecloth, a cotton clot, or a thin tea towel, and ladle in the cooked soy mixture.
Squeeze out the liquid into the pot. Press down on the bag with a spoon to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Save the fibrous material okara to make granola, cornbread, or meatless sausage. Heat the soy milk in the pot to around 165F.
If you’re not making tofu, serve soy milk hot or cold, stir in desired flavorings like 2 tablespoons or more of honey, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon grated ginger root, and a sprinkle of sea salt into hot soy milk.
To make the tofu:
Dissolve 4 teaspoons of nigari in a cup of lukewarm water. Stir until the powder is dissolved. Stirring the warm soy milk, add the nigari liquid in stages, waiting a bit between additions. As soon as the curd starts to separate from the liquid, stop adding.
Turn off the heat, and put a tight fitting lid on the pot. Leave for at least 15 minutes, then check, stirring very gently to see the state of the curds. The curds should be fairly large (like cottage cheese) and totally separated from the yellowish liquid. If the curds have not separated, add the remainder of the nigari liquid. Replace the lid and let stand for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
Line the tofu mold with a damp, clean cheese cloth or towel. When the tofu is ready, the white curds will have sunk to the bottom. Ladle or pour off most of yellowish whey.
Place the tofu mold into a baking dish. Scoop the curds into the cloth lined tofu mold, waiting for the liquid to drain before adding more curds. Once all the curd has been used, fold the cloth over to cover. Place a weight on top (I like to use canned tomatoes or a quart-jar filled with water), to help to press out the liquid.
Leave the tofu to rest at least 15 minutes, or up to overnight, depending on the firmness desired. Tofu is ready when it’s firm enough to hold together. Fill a large bowl with water, and gently invert the tofu. Carefully peel off the cloth. Rinse tofu under running water to remove excess bitterness. Store tofu in a container filled with fresh water. Change water every day until your ready to use it.